Sunday, May 4, 2014

#163 May 4, 2014- Educational Semantics, Voter ID and More

Words Mean Things . . .
The ability to use language to communicate with each other is one of the primary things that sets human beings apart from other members of the animal kingdom.  We use our words in many ways and in many different forums.  Yet, for all of our supposedly advanced communication abilities, humans certainly seem to be very adept at creating as much confusion as we do clarity when we try to convey important ideas.

One of the biggest problems we have is that the words we use can have multiple meanings, and these definitions can be applied in different ways.  Often the uses of words and the underlying meaning of a specific word hinge on the ideological viewpoints that the speaker, or listener, hold.  It is because of this reality that we have so much difficulty really communicating with each other in meaningful ways.  Our challenges around language are compounded when the topics we are conversing about are controversial or there is a high degree of emotion associated with them.  Suddenly we seem to be speaking different languages to each other, even when we are using the exact same words. 

Take the word accountability for example.  For education "reformers" this word means using test scores and other similar measures to evaluate educators and to prove the "failures" of public schools.  By claiming to be promoting accountability and working to provide equitable opportunities for all students these "reformers" can advance their agenda of testing, standardization and eventual privatization of our educational systems. 

The efforts to hold educators "accountable" are happening nationwide.  Wisconsin is no exception as we prepare implement a labor intensive Educator Effectiveness system with questionable validity that threatens to further undermine real educator effectiveness and undermine morale even further.  We are starting to see some pushback from educators across the nation.  Wisconsin educators should be prepared to follow the lead of educators in places like Houston and work to make sure that the word accountability regains its validity in education.        

Seven HISD teachers and the Houston Federation of Teachers union plan to file a federal lawsuit this week over the district's teacher evaluation system, one of the first nationwide to grade...

Accountability isn't just for individual educators or public school systems anymore.  "Reformers" are working to influence all levels of education and a key element of their efforts is to control the educational workforce through a combination of licensing, professional development and education programs in our nation's colleges and universities.

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is planning to move ahead this summer with a proposal that would tie federal grants for...

Of course accountability isn't the only word that has multiple meanings to different people.  To "reformers" expectations means increasing standards and raising test scores.  Expectations and rigor combine and become a collection of skills that students must achieve by a specific grade.  The only way to measure student progress is through standardized tests which are biased towards specific types of learners.  Following this line of thinking makes it difficult for educators to meet the needs of any student who learns differently, has other challenges, or who isn't developmentally ready for a specific skill at a specific time.  

People talk about a culture of high expectations,” but often fail to understand what it means, and to examine whether it's compatible with current reforms.

The word reform itself has taken on meanings that are different from what many of us think of when we talk about reforming, or fixing some of the problems that exist in our schools.  Reform in an educational context has come to mean radical privatization of our schools.  Reform has become anti-educator and anti-public education in the current context.  Educators working to make positive change within our current system don't meet the far-reaching goals of those who claim the title of "Educational Reformer."    

Rob Walton, Walmart heir and chair of the board of directors. Walmart isn't just reshaping work in America. The company's largest shareholders,...
Daily Kos

That's how Scot Ross, executive director of the progressive think tank One Wisconsin Institute, describes the Bradley Foundation.

Often single words aren't enough to fully encompass a concept and we create phrases to convey our messages.  These become a part of our societal lexicon as we talk about important issues.  Career and College Ready is one of these phrases in education that has become a driver of "reform."     

Who cares about learning to get along with others, problem solve and think creatively? What 5- and 6-year-olds need is more college-prep...
The Huffington Post|By Melissa Sher

This belongs in the you-can't-make-up-this-stuff category.
Washington Post

Another issue that arises is the ability of people to use language to mask our true intentions.  They use words that sound a certain way, but in reality the real meaning of the words are completely different.  They end up talking a lot, but saying very little of substance, or even completely misleading their listeners and promoting ideas that sound good, but end poorly.  The end result is mass confusion and misconceptions about issues that are vital to the survival of our society and our democratic ideals.  Issues like public education become political footballs that are used by all sides, leaving students, families and communities to struggle with the aftermath. 

With all the talk about public education, we are still struggling to define what we really expect from our schools, educators and students.  Are we looking at education as a solution to our societal problems?  Is it is way to control the masses and create compliant and productive citizens?  Is education a way to promote critical thinking and challenge our society to be better with each generation?  By turning education into a political issue we create the potential to address these types of questions, but we also bring in the rhetoric and misleading talk that comes with any political conversation.       

Doug Lemov is skeptical that I'm right about education being a (relatively) ineffective way of fighting poverty. His response is thoughtful and deserves a

By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter MADISON, Wis. — Dan Krueger says he got involved in politics three years ago when

Talk is cheap, but can be very costly if we aren't careful listeners.  It is in the listening and interpreting that humans truly must utilize their intelligence.  Unfortunately, too many of us have become better at talking, better at assuming, and too confident in our own opinions and knowledge to really listen to those around us.  We hear the words and phrases and immediately jump to conclusions, form opinions and entrench our beliefs into a Maginot Line that is both costly, and ineffective.  We use language as a weapon instead of a tool, and miss out on the vast potential that could be tapped.        

The time has come for us to step forward and truly communicate about important issues like public education.  Supporters of public education need to clearly articulate our positions on issues and help the public understand the definitions of the words that are being used so that they aren't trapped by rhetoric, but instead freed by language.  There is a significant amount of irony in our inability to have intelligent, thoughtful, well reasoned conversations about education, the very topic that should guide us in our efforts to have those types of conversations.      

Karen Lewis is President of the Chicago Teachers Union and a leading figure in the defense of public education. This event was sponsored by...

John Kuhn is the Superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District in Texas and the author of the book "Fear and Learning in Americ...

Teachers are fighting the privatization wave by connecting with families right where they live.
Bill Moyers
The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .

The Good . .  The courts and legal system have long been a pathway to progress for those who seek remedies that our political system struggles to provide.  The decision by a federal judge to strike down Wisconsin's voter ID law is one of those steps towards social justice.  It leaves the GOP in Wisconsin struggling to justify their actions, and to prepare for a November election where the voters that they tried to exclude may play a large role in, assuming that there is a significant voter turnout.   

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A federal judge in Milwaukee has struck down Wisconsin's voter Identification law, saying it unfairly burdens poor and minority voters. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman issued his long-awaited...
The Huffington Post|By Paige Lavender

"The reason blacks and Latinos are disproportionately likely to live in poverty, and therefore to lack a qualifying ID, is because they have...
Mother Jones

Tuesday's federal court decision is a complete rejection of Wisconsin's law requiring a state-issued photo identification, Walker and legislative leaders...|By Lee Enterprises

This talks about the national level, but it holds true in Wisconsin as well.

Democrats have to turn them out.
Washington Post

We don't need voter ID for many reasons.  There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.  Unlike financial transactions, firearm purchases, and other commercial transactions where fraud is more common, investigations haven't uncovered any significant amount of voter fraud in recent elections.  We could argue that the counting and recording of votes has been troubling, but that isn't addressed by voter ID laws.  Voter ID laws are specifically designed to place a burden on specific groups of people.  People who have historically been disenfranchised, and who vote as a bloc for the Democrats.  We shouldn't be messing around with important democratic rights purely for political advantage or out of a fear of different demographic groups.   

The Bad . . .   Some might argue that the huge turnover in membership of the Wisconsin Legislature is a positive.  There are some valid reasons for ideas like term limits and other mechanisms to insure that being an elected representative is an occupation that is entered in to for the proper reasons (to serve the public, not to advance a career or serve a special interest at the expense of the public).  However, the exodus of members this year isn't consistently  for the betterment of the legislature, but rather a symptom of the toxic political environment that currently exists here. 

When the next 99 Assembly members swear their oaths in January, the majority of them — at least 54 — will be lawmakers first elected after the passage of Gov. Scott Walker’s union bargaining law.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel|By Jason Stein

The Ugly . . . Once again, public officials should be elected by the public to act in the public's best interests.  Unfortunately, the influence of large sums of money from small numbers of donators guarantees that many our elected officials will be "purchased" in future elections. 

Wisconsinites Vote Big Money Out of Elections, New Analysis Finds McCutcheon Decision Could Let Big Money In MOVI Wisconsin Coalition...
It is time for the general public to realize the important impacts that unions have had on our society, and the necessity to continue to have unions in the workplace.  Without unions there are few, if any, real protections for workers.  This is especially true in an economy where there are large numbers of unemployed workers, and where companies can move around the world to find the cheapest, most exploitable labor possible. 

Postal workers rallied in 56 locations around the country yesterday, protesting the piecemeal outsourcing of postal work to the low-wage...

Why "efficiency" and "productivity" really mean more profits for corporations and less sanity for you.
Mother Jones

We need our political candidates to step up and be true advocates for labor as well.  While the Democrats certainly are less aggressive in their efforts to undermine the labor movement, their actions certainly don't do much to support the average worker in America.

As Democrat Mary Burke campaigns for governor across the state, it is as if the battle that curbed union benefits, eroded labor's clout and made Gov....
The Wall Street Journal|By Peter Nicholas

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